Since Charlestown Town Councilor Steve Williams resigned in January, the Charlestown Democratic Town Committee (CDTC) has insisted that their candidate from the November election, whom they describe as the “next highest vote getter,” should be appointed to fill the vacancy. Six people ran for five open Council positions in November. One was defeated and would be the “next highest vote getter” even if he had received as few as 100 votes. The other defeated candidates were write-in candidates who remain unknown.
The CDTC’s claim that the “next highest vote getter” is always the voter’s choice has not been born out when Town Councilors have resigned and special elections have been held to replace them.
In the past 30 years there have been two Town Council resignations that resulted in special elections. When a resignation occurs in the first year of a Council term, the Charlestown Home Rule Charter requires a special election.
In the 2000 general election there were nine candidates. Five Republicans were elected and four Democrats defeated. The highest-ranking defeated Democrat was Deb Carney. When an elected Town Councilor resigned eight months later, a special election was held as required. Four candidates ran, with the winner an independent who had not been on the November ballot. Ms. Carney, the next highest vote getter from the November election, was defeated again. When the voters where given a choice, the “next highest vote getter” did not translate into a winner.
A second resignation in 2001 triggered another special election. Once again the winner was an independent candidate who had not been on the November ballot.
In that same 30-year period there have been three additional resignations and one death. All of these occurred after the first year of the Council term when the charter requires the Town Council to make the appointment or simply leave the seat open.
In 1992 an all-Democratic Council appointed a member of the CDTC who had never run for election to fill the vacancy. In 1996 an all-Republican Council appointed a member of the Republican Town Committee who had never run for election. In 2008, a divided Town Council could not agree on whom to appoint and left the seat open. And this year, an all-independent Town Council has appointed Independent George Tremblay, who has previously been elected three times and served as Town Council vice president. The only difference between this council’s action and those of past councils is that they appointed a candidate who has never been defeated and who has a proven record of being the voter’s choice.
Changing the charter, as the CDTC suggests, to require the automatic appointment of the “next highest vote getter” from among the defeated candidates is not following the voters’ choice. The voters’ choice can only be measured in an election, and when there has been time for a special election the voters have chosen to defeat again the “next highest vote getter.” We should leave our Town Charter as it is.